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January 18, 2024

Two Fellowship Programs Honor the Legacy and Impact of Maeve McKean

On December 8, 2023, members of the global health community at Georgetown University gathered for a luncheon with the family members of Maeve McKean (G/L’09), the former executive director of the Georgetown University Global Health Initiative, now Global Health Institute, who unexpectedly passed away on April 2, 2020. The luncheon was held in honor of the four McKean fellows, selected through two Georgetown University fellowship programs, who are doing exceptional work in McKean’s memory.

Sydney Blackston (middle) poses with Jessica Kritz (left) and Sarah Vittone (right) at a reception before the luncheon
Sydney Blackston (middle) poses with Jessica Kritz (left) and Sarah Vittone (right) at a reception before the luncheon

Establishing Fellowships that Cross Campuses and Disciplines

To honor McKean’s legacy and impact, Georgetown established two fellowship programs in her memory. While the fellowships span Georgetown’s campuses as well as academic levels, both programs embody McKean’s service to the common good. Having earned a joint law degree from Georgetown Law and master’s degree in international negotiations and conflict resolution from the School of Foreign Service, McKean was a passionate human rights advocate who felt called to be a public health lawyer; she dedicated her career to focusing on the health needs of vulnerable people in local and global communities.

Most recently in 2023, the Global Health Institute and Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service established the Maeve McKean Global Health Award, providing one student each year with the opportunity to conduct their own research on a global health and human rights issue anywhere in the world the summer before their senior year. All full-time Georgetown undergraduates who are rising juniors are eligible to apply. The inaugural McKean fellow is Sydney Blackston (N’25), an undergraduate student in Georgetown University’s School of Nursing pursuing a bachelor of science degree in nursing with a minor in justice and peace studies.

In 2021, the Women’s Law and Public Policy Fellowship Program and the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown Law established the Maeve McKean Women’s Law and Public Policy Fellowship, which names one fellow each year to work in the Washington, DC, community to advance health equity. Practitioners and students with a J.D. degree or equivalent are eligible to apply. So far, three fellows have been named: Anna Reed, who was the inaugural McKean fellow in 2021; Mackenzie Darling, the 2022 McKean fellow; and Rolonda Donelson, who is currently serving as the 2023 McKean fellow.

Advancing Health Equity

During the luncheon, attendees had the opportunity to hear directly from three of the four McKean fellows—Blackston, Donelson, and Darling—about their fellowship experiences and how that work has impacted them. Unable to attend in person, Anna Reed shared written remarks with McKean’s family members.

Blackston, the 2023 inaugural recipient of the Maeve McKean Global Health Award, discussed her plans to explore the impact of wildfires in Canada on the health of Indigenous people. In her remarks, Blackston reflected on her fellowship experience so far, which has required months of planning in preparation for submitting a research project proposal to the university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB). She will need to receive IRB approval in order to conduct fieldwork in Canada during summer 2024. Blackston shared that the fellowship experience has reinforced for her the importance of critical thinking.

"The more I study health care here at Georgetown, the more I wonder about the complex systems that disproportionately hinder and exclude underserved populations."

As the 2023 Maeve McKean Women’s Law and Public Policy Fellow, Donelson described how she works closely with both the O’Neill Institute and the National Health Law Program (NHeLP), which seeks to advance the health rights of low-income and underserved individuals and families. At NHeLP, she has been conducting policy advocacy relating to the U.S. government’s Medicaid program. Some of her recent work has focused on securing contraceptive equity so all individuals can assert bodily autonomy in choosing their preferred method of pregnancy prevention. At the O’Neill Institute, she also focuses on domestic reproductive rights issues, particularly looking at the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on the doctor-patient relationship and other areas of health care. In her remarks, she expressed gratitude for the opportunity to work for organizations that seek to expand health equity in the United States and abroad.

"I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work at two organizations that have allowed me not only to foster my passion for health law but expand critical access to reproductive care to those that need it most."

Rolonda Donelson delivering remarks at the luncheon while standing next to members of Maeve McKean's family
Rolonda Donelson delivering remarks at the luncheon while standing next to members of Maeve McKean's family

Learning with Faculty Mentors

Through these two fellowship programs, the four McKean fellows selected so far have focused on some of the most intractable public health and global health challenges of our time. However, they have not been expected to tackle these issues alone. The fellows are supported by Georgetown University faculty members as they pursue their work in both Washington, DC, and abroad.

Jessica Kritz, assistant professor of global health at Georgetown’s School of Health, is currently serving as Blackston’s faculty mentor. Kritz’s research addresses the disproportionate burden of climate change on workers in the informal sector in Ghana, so Kritz and Blackston share a research focus on vulnerable populations and the effects of climate and the environment on human health. The two also share an interest in community-centered research design—working with communities to understand their perspective on the issues they are facing in order to support changes they are seeking. While the mentoring relationship is extremely beneficial for Blackston as she prepares to submit a research project to the IRB for the first time, Kritz emphasized during the luncheon that mutual learning is also taking place.

"It has been fascinating to me that our synergy—both in research process and subject matter—means that we are advancing our learnings, together, with lessons from two countries."

Supporting Creative, Collaborative Problem-Solving

As represented by Blackston, Donelson, Darling, and Reed, the fellowship programs attract practitioners and students from diverse academic backgrounds and with different interests who are all seeking to create a more just world. At the conclusion of the luncheon, Andria Wisler, executive director of the Center for Social Justice, emphasized the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving, which McKean promoted through her life and career and which the fellows now exemplify.

"Learning from how Maeve pursued her academic and professional commitments and what the fellows expressed today, the way forward on our most intractable conflicts and injustices can only surface if we seek in between and across public policy and law, health, nursing, peace studies, climate science, conflict resolution, and human rights."

The luncheon was an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the four McKean fellows as well as an opportunity for the McKean family and Georgetown’s global health community to remember McKean’s contributions to creating a better human condition.

If you are interested in supporting the Maeve McKean Global Health Award, you can do so with a donation:

  • Online: Please use this online donation form and add a note in the "Other" field indicating it is "to support Maeve McKean Global Health Award."​
  • By mail: Donations may be made by sending a check made payable to Georgetown University (add a note: "to support Maeve McKean Global Health Award"). Mail it to Georgetown University, Gift Processing, Department Number 0734, Washington, DC 20073-0734.